Summer of 85
- Emma Simmonds
- 19 October 2020
François Ozon's queer coming-of-ager has some lovely details but is hard to get a handle on
Prolific French director François Ozon offers his own typically confounding twist on the queer coming-of-age romance in Summer of 85. It's an adaptation of the 1982 novel by British author Aidan Chambers, Dance on My Grave, considered a landmark of young adult fiction in its depiction of a gay love affair. Dramatically, and slightly dishonestly, framed as the story of a death and our protagonist's role in that, it's a tonally unpredictable film that's erratic and occasionally fascinating.
Félix Lefebvre plays Alexis, an angel-faced French teen living in a coastal town, who is told by his literature teacher that he's a promising writer, but is being pressured to leave school and start work by his gruff docker dad (Laurent Fernandez). When the small boat he borrows capsizes while he's sailing during a storm, a slightly older, more confident boy appears like a bolt from the blue and rescues him. It's the beginning of an intense relationship, which we know from the declaration at the outset, will not end well. The 18-year-old in question is David Gorman (Benjamin Voisin). He's recently lost his dad, and him and his overly affectionate mother (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) welcome Alexis enthusiastically into their lives.
Summer of 85 is enjoyable in the main and, in its playfulness, very much recognisable as Ozon's work. There's some loveliness in the realisation of the period and setting, and in moments where Alexis and David are allowed to be carefree. However, the lack of subtlety in the structure sits ill with some of the more credible and vital scenes, while the use of Rod Stewart's 'Sailing' as the film's anthem during a couple of dodgy dance sequences comes across as very strange indeed.
The script doesn't offer much in the way of character psychology but Lefebvre creates a convincing contrast between his lovestruck naïf and someone dumbfounded by guilt and loss. And, with a dangerous twinkle in his eye and an interestingly askew smile, Voisin exudes charisma as a damaged young man dicing with disaster. If the suggested darker territory never satisfactorily materialises, it's best chalked up as an oddity; if that's what you're after, then it definitely delivers.
Available to watch in cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema from Fri 23 Oct.